Manchester's worker bee mentality is helping to digitally transform the waste industry

Written by: Jason Fazackerley | Published:
Image credit: Wikimedia

Increasingly these days, as you move around Manchester, you will see the Worker Bee symbol. You will see it on posters, car stickers and even tattoos.

The Worker Bee was adopted during the Industrial Revolution as a reflection of Manchester being the birthplace of industry and the hard work of Mancunians that contributed to it. It was also a symbol of Manchester being a hive of activity at that time, which has continued ever since.

Whether it was Manchester’s Emmeline Pankhurst at the forefront of the Suffragette campaigns,the world’s first stored-program digital computer being invented at The University of Manchester in 1948, or the music of The Smiths and The Stone Roses, Manchester always liked to change the world.

The Industrial Revolution had a profound effect on the country that we live in. The fourth Industrial Revolution that we are now entering is almost certainly going to have the same impact.

Beginning in the 18th century, the first Industrial Revolution was about mechanisation, steam power and weaving looms. The Victorian period and into the 20th century brought us mass production, the assembly line and electrical energy and this was the second Industrial Revolution. The third was automation, computers and electronics that emerged in the middle of the 20th century onwards.

Now we are living in the fourth Industrial Revolution, which is our era of cyber-physical systems, Internet of Things and networks. We are only at the beginning of this process that is set to change how we work and run businesses.

As a company based in Manchester it is clear that the city has been a part of each of these revolutions and you see that every day. Many of Manchester’s warehouses that stored the goods used in the first Industrial Revolution are now offices home to tech companies.

Unlike the first two revolutions that led to huge levels of pollution, the fourth has the environment and sustainability at its core. Industry 4.0, as it is known, uses smart solutions that apply digital technologies to address social, environmental and economic goals. In our era we are looking to move from traditional resource constraints to a system of resource recovery. This means we develop closed-loop solutions to maximise our use of those resources.

Technologies such as 3D printing will allow manufacturing to take place more locally, and in a more bespoke way, allowing for resource capture and remanufacture on a more local level.

Natural organisms will be harnessed that will enable the recovery of materials. Where coal and oil were the enablers of the first two industrial revolutions, and kept society moving and heated during the third, data will be the fuel of the fourth.

So how will this affect the recycling industry? There are an estimated 1.4 billion individual movements of waste materials per year in the UK. More than 40% of those require individual reporting, for non-domestic collections.

Almost half of these movements involve more than one party, and the price of manual labour to process these interactions costs recycling and waste firms £150 million per year.

This means recycling and waste collections are often inefficient, take more time than they should, are prone to error, lead to cashflow issues, and result in additional costs to recycled materials than compared to virgin.

Digital transformation as part of Industry 4.0 has the potential to radically alter the landscape for recycling and waste companies. Smart software solutions have the potential to improve the connections and networks between each part of the supply chain.

Technology can provide the waste producer with a single point of service, performance management, real-time communication and notifications, value and confidence in compliance. The service provider gets commitment from the customer, lean levels of admin, improved cashflow and better margins. Waste brokers benefit from improved cashflow, better performance from the service they offer, improved margins from efficiencies, more customer loyalty and higher commitment from the operators they use.

This enables those who recycle the materials to ultimately provide their supply chains with just-in-time recycled content that is high quality and matches the offer of virgin material suppliers.

Data is what will fuel much better communications and understanding throughout the supply chain. This vast level of data will enable technologies such as machine learning to understand and forecast optimal collections for example. Factors such as weather, oil price, political stability, shipping costs, economic forecasts and national events, when added to trends information on collection of materials, can develop a highly sophisticated and accurate prediction of when and where material will be available for collection.

It means what we are doing now will become even better. Our worker bees in our office in Manchester are already offering the technology to make this happen.

Jason Fazackerley is chief executive of Tegos Group

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